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China, Today and Yesterday

January 8, 2013

My recent trip to China brought home two views of China: The progress it has made, and how little things have changed.

China’s progress in providing electricity to its citizens is remarkable. Advances in technology have also been remarkable: Bullet trains and their first woman astronaut as examples.

Yet, in many respects, activities are still fairly primitive.

These pictures, showing the loading of coal onto a barge during my trip, shows there is still a lack of appreciation for health, safety and the environment.

Picture by Dears. Loading coal along Yangtze River, China, 2012

Picture by Dears. Loading coal along Yangtze River, China, 2012

Picture by Dears. Loading coal along Yangtze River, China, 2012

Picture by Dears. Loading coal along Yangtze River, China, 2012

This reminded me of my first visit to Taiwan, when, as a midshipman on board a freighter, the Reuben Tipton, a large quantity of phosphates was delivered to Keelung, Taiwan. The Peoples Republic of China considers Taiwan to be one of its provinces.

Reuben Tipton

Reuben Tipton, Lykes Brothers Line, 1950

The forward holds were full of granular phosphate; loose, and not bagged.

Chinese workmen, with yokes across their shoulders and buckets hanging from each end of the yoke, walked down ramps to the phosphate in the ship’s hold, where the buckets were filled by other workers standing on the phosphate, using shovels and hands. The workmen would then carry their loads up wooden ramps to the ship’s deck, then down other ramps to the dock. The entire load of phosphates was removed in this manner … without cranes, or mechanical assistance of any kind. The dust was ingested by all the workers.

It took a week, actually Christmas week, to fully unload the phosphate.

While not completely unrelated to China, this picture, taken on the same voyage, but on Mindanao, the Philippines, shows me riding a more primitive form of energy used in farming and transportation.

Donn Dears on Buffalo, Mindanao, the Philippines

Donn Dears on Buffalo, Mindanao, the Philippines, 1950

China remains a study in contrasts.

While 400 million Chinese have clearly benefited from the progress that has been made over the past twenty years, with many young professionals working in science, business, banking and other modern occupations, there are still those living on farms and in rural areas where conditions remain very similar to what existed sixty years ago.

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. January 8, 2013 2:14 pm

    Donn…I am just a bit older than you. After an MSChEngr from USC in
    July 1951, I went out to Saudi Arabia to “help” the industry along.
    We set the world-competition policy in oil going when we reduced the
    price from $2.12 per barrel to $1.89. In the 1950s. And held it there for
    three decades… The rest of the world had to compete..we had plenty
    of the stuff. Prosperity ensued for many decades…the world progressed
    as it never had before..!

  2. January 8, 2013 3:12 pm

    Thanks for the comments.
    Times have certainly changed. My first trip to Saudi was in 1971, and oil was still down around $2.00 per barrel. I stayed at the best hotel in Khobar, which was rudimentary at best. You probably have stayed there. My initial visit from Bahrain, in a Dhow, to Dubai was striking when compared with today. The best hotel in Dubai was no better than a cheap motel. Things changed quickly after that. A year or so later, when we completed our facility on Bahrain, the oil embargo occurred and from then on the price of oil has risen steadily. I have been to the ARAMCO compound, but never lived in Saudi. I suspect you visited Bahrain, possibly Beirut, as a diversion from the job.
    Hope you find my articles interesting.
    Tell me more whenever you have the time.

    • January 12, 2013 11:44 am

      Donn…your articles are always interesting..
      I left Aramco for Los Angeles’. Fluor in January 1971, your entry.
      You were living high in Khobar. There was no such thing as a hotel
      In the Eastern Provence in the 1950s. I spent two years in the NY
      office..1954-56… Where I found my wife, and we have two sons,
      born in Dhahran. They’re now 55 and 50…and one lives in London
      with daughters in UK universities….time flies.
      I made Superindent of the Ras Tanura refinery/terminal. Then
      out to Abqaiq where I managed all oil production, acting basis.
      Ali Niami and I were competitors. He was Supt.,Production, while
      I was Supt.,Plants and Pipilines. That was 44 years ago, but he’s
      still working…born 1937. WOW.
      At Fluor I was a project manager on Canadian tar sands and
      South Africa’s coal- to-gas/oil/chemicals.
      Interesting, fun…!

      • January 13, 2013 10:05 am

        Thanks, great. Very informative.
        It must have been interesting working with Ali Niami, and to see the actions taken by him as oil minister.
        Your comments about Abqaiq and SASOL caught my eye.
        As I remember, Abqaiq processes around 90% of Saudi exports. Is that still true?
        Re SASOL. I can understand GTL in South Africa with the oil embargo and I can understand GTL in Qatar with the stranded natural gas, but I find it difficult to understand the justification for GTL in the lower 48 states.
        I’d be interested in your comments on GTL.
        Canadian Tar Sands are, of course, highly political nowadays with CO2 emissions the issue.
        You have certainly been in the heart of the action, which must have been interesting.
        If you want, you can contact me at
        I can then send you my personal email address.

    • January 12, 2013 11:48 am

      Donn..What facility did you complete on Bahrain? What were you
      doing there?…vern

      • January 13, 2013 10:24 am

        I was working for General Electric establishing service facilities around the world to service heavy equipment, such as gas turbines, steam turbines and transformers as well as motors and generators.
        I negotiated with the Bahrain government in 1971 to get the Emir to issue a Charter for the company being formed with our partner since the companies act hadn’t yet been established. Later, though 1976, I was involved with establishing facilities in Dubai and Saudi Arabia. Also investigated Iran at Ahwaz and Tehran.
        I traveled extensively in Saudi Arabia, to Jeddah and all around the Eastern province, to determine where to establish the service facility and to negotiate with potential partners. Obviously, also met with ARAMCO and the electrical supply company, but can’t remember names.
        Our service plants were fairly small, ranging from 10,000 sq feet to 100,000 with heavy lift capability.
        When I returned full time to the U.S., I ran GE’s heavy equipment service business in the Midwest and then the Programs Department that provided engineering support for all our heavy service facilities around the world. I had interesting jobs, and always enjoyed what I was doing.

  3. Frank Kesman permalink
    January 8, 2013 4:41 pm

    Donn, I find your posts on energy and related topics interesting and enlightening! Thanks for working to keep at least a portion of the population enlightened and current on the issues. Frank Kesman

    FK Sent from my iPad

  4. January 8, 2013 4:46 pm

    Many thanks.

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